There are certain things that can get real divisive and heated and potentially even end a relationship. Mac and Cheese is definitely right up there with politics, religion, and a couple’s first IKEA trip. It really all depends on who made it for you growing up and where you live.
The divide between people’s Mac and Cheese nostalgia and battle ready opinion is really simple. Quick roux or casserole. Do you make your Mac by first combining flour and butter then adding in milk and cheese? Start to finish maybe 20 minutes? That’s the Roux version which is essentially Kraft Mac. It’s quick, easy, and you can eat it out of the pot or bake it. That’s the pretty standard recipe in most northern states. Or, do you mix a bunch of cheeses together with seasoning and grandma’s secret other ingredients then bake it? That’s the casserole version.
Oh. Let’s not even get into what kind of noodle you should use. It’s my blog post so ya’ll are just gonna do what I say. Agree to disagree and stick to Elbow noodles. If you try to fancy up your Mac with a funny shape noodle then…well…you do you. But elbow is best because it makes the perfect noodle to sauce ratio with just enough noodle tunnel to get some creamy, cheesy goodness inside. Bowtie has no business in Mac and Cheese.
Is this THE mac and cheese recipe? Naw. I’m not your grandma or mom. But, I did want to make a vegan version of this style of Mac for those who don’t ride the Roux train. Before we talk about ingredients and process let’s talk the culture of Mac and Cheese.
If you’re white and live in any of the northern states, Mac and Cheese is just a thing you eat when you’re a kid and have nostalgic cravings for as an adult. Box mac is perfectly fine and your bowl of noodles was orange and wet. It’s maybe a side dish at a gathering, but chances are you aren’t serving it at a holiday meal. In the South and specifically in the Black community, Mac and Cheese is cultural and holds respect and reverence and is taken seriously. It’s in the Soul Food category for a reason and has a rich history.
Do yourself a favor and read through these articles that give you the background on the cultural significance of Mac and Cheese. As a white man from a small town the Midwest I had no idea everything I didn’t know about Mac and Cheese. It was honestly very humbling to read about how this dish came out of slaves cooking for plantation owners and then evolved into a sacred responsibility for celebrations and holidays. Read the articles.
So, why did I make this recipe? I’m a white boy from northern Wisconsin. I grew up on boxed mac and then “Velveeta Shells and Cheese” if I was feeling fancy. Did I invent this recipe? Hell no. What I did do was read a lot of blogs, recipes, and watched videos to understand the cultural significance of Mac and Cheese and the recipe structure. I wanted to make as close as possible a vegan Mac that won’t get me banished from the cookout. Is it the best Mac and Cheese ever? Nope. It’ll never compare to grandma’s recipe, but it’s vegan and hits all the checkboxes.
My mission statement as CrowMoonKitchen is, “to provide a creative and holistic approach to cooking that empowers people to establish for themselves a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.” We often think of health solely as physical shape and function. There’s value in nutrition and understanding how to fuel your body. But social, emotional, and mental health is so crucial and food plays a large role in the health of these areas as well.
Being able to enjoy comfort foods and cultural foods as a vegan can often be a challenge. It’s hard to go to the party or cookout or family gathering and not be able to enjoy these foods that are part of the social element. Family traditions that give you emotional comfort through nostalgia. These foods also help you feel connected and when you cannot participate it feels like being left out or not valued. It is the struggle of being vegan in a family, city, society that is predominantly not vegan. It’s a choice to be vegan, but that shouldn’t mean not getting to enjoy the traditions and flavors and aromas that satisfy all of your health.
This style of Mac and Cheese is different than a Roux version. A roux sauce starts with a fat and flour then liquid then cheese until it’s thick. The fat gets encapsulated in the flour which blends with the liquid, generally milk, and makes a béchamel, a thick cream sauce, which may or may not be seasoned before adding in one or two types of cheese. Read through the articles above to understand the cultural significance of this style of Mac because it explains why it’s created using rich ingredients like creams and several types of cheese. It’s meant to be an experience and to be heavy and full of flavors. It’s definitely not a meal where you’re counting calories. Enjoy it and let it fill your soul.
As I was creating this recipe I wanted to make it using ingredients that could be easily found at most grocery stores to give the dish that custardy and cheesy texture and flavor. I used soft silken style tofu to replace eggs, which give it that custard texture and firmness. I also used a variety of vegan cheeses to get as many flavors as possible. Feel free to swap brands based on preference or availability. But here’s why I chose these brands and styles:
- Forager Mozzarella – good mozz flavor without being overpowering and melts really well. It’s a new line of cheese and there are a few other good mozz brands out there.
- Moocho Cheddar – realistic color, some brands are weirdly yellow or far too orange, with a good cheddar tang. It melts smooth which is needed for this recipe.
- Good Planet American slices – you need American cheese for this Mac and Cheese. It melts different than other styles of cheese plus the flavor helps to blend everything together. I really love the Good Planet variety of American cheese. You cannot skip this cheese though.
- Tofutti Sour Cream and Cream Cheese – there are a lot of brands of vegan sour cream and cream cheese, but, let’s be real, they can get hella expensive and when you’re mixing them into a ton of other flavors it doesn’t matter that you dropped rent on a tub of sour cream. Tofutti has a good texture, good flavor, and works really well in this dish.
- Get creative with cheeses. The goal is to have a lot of cheesy flavor. Provolone, smoked gouda, or any other mild cheese versus a feta or flavored cheese.
When preparing your Mac and Cheese it is helpful to have everything prepped, measured, and on hand so that you don’t have to scramble to find something while you’re putting it all together. The cheese sauce needs to be ready once the noodles have finished cooking and the oven needs to be preheated by the time all of your ingredients are in the dish. It’s not complicated or hard, but there’s an order, and that’s all laid out in the recipe below!
Southern Style Vegan Mac and Cheese
- 9×13" casserole dish
- 16 ounces dried elbow noodles (Use elbow or be judged)
- 8 ounces shredded cheddar, divided (I used Moocho brand)
- 8 ounces shredded mozzarella (I used Forager brand)
- 10 ounces American cheese, divided (I used Good Planet slices, chopped )
- 4 ounces cream cheese (I used Tofutti)
- 8 ounces sour cream (Tofutti)
- 1 cup unsweetened oatmilk (Silk is my fav brand for cooking)
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon tapioca starch (or corn starch, tapioca is better for baking)
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard powder
- 1/2 cup soft silken tofu (A box is roughly 1 cup)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray or wipe oil into a 9×13" baking dish. Set aside.
- Cook noodles to al dente according to package instructions. Don't overcook because the noodles are getting baked too and you don't want them to be mushy. Make sure to salt the water. Roughly 1 teaspoon per cup of water. Salting the water flavors the noodles from the inside out. Drain the noodles and set aside or if your cheese is ready just mix it together.
- In a large bowl, whisk the tofu until it's as smooth as you can get it. Mix in the sour cream, cream cheese, and oatmilk. Stir in the nutritional yeast, tapioca starch, salt, pepper, ground mustard, and garlic and onion powders. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
- Add half of the cheddar cheese, 8 ounces of American cheese, and all of the mozzarella. You will use the rest to top the dish. Stir well to evenly distribute the shredded cheeses. Stir in the cooked macaroni.
- Scoop into the prepared baking dish and top with the remaining cheese and drizzle on the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Cover the pan with foil, I spray mine with oil so the cheese won't stick, and bake on the middle rack for a total of 35 minutes. After 15 minutes remove the foil and continue baking for the remaining 20 minutes. You should see bubbling on the sides of the dish and the cheese on top should be melty. Bake for 5 min longer if there are no bubbles on the side.
- Let sit for 10-15 minutes before serving. This rest time allows the custardy sauce to set and the cheese on top to firm up a little.
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